Help building a whole home system - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 6 Old 09-20-2013, 09:44 AM - Thread Starter
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Hello - I am interested in building a HTPC, and was hoping some of you would be willing to help get me going in the right direction. I was reading the article on PCWorld, and followed a posters suggestion to check out your site. I am glad I did. As a newbie I am a bit green on some of terminology, but have read a few posts to try to figure somethings out myself.

So I do not watch a ton of TV, and am tired of paying my cable company $100+ a month. I am in Minnesota and have Charter Communications for my cable provider. I am forced to use their cable boxes that have a terrible menu system, can not record a program on one TV and watch it on another, and have to pay for each TV to have a box. Just to name a few issues I have with them.

I am a divorced father of 3 daughters, so while I maybe fine with getting rid of the cable service all together it would be difficult for them especially with winter coming and being forced inside a little more then normal. I know there are options to purchase a HD TV antenna for local channels and use services such as Netfilx or Amazon Prime for streaming movies and cartoons. I just do not know how to go about configuring the system to work together (5 TV's total). Also I would not mind even keeping my cable service as long as I could get a better menu system, multi-room DVR, and stop spending $$ to rent the cable boxes.

It would also be really nice to save all of my existing movies to a digital format and create a video library that my girls could access at any time without having to dig for a disk. Access to Netfilx, Hulu, and Amazon Instant (prime) would also be a huge plus.

Some of the posts I have read discussed using a Windows machine with Media Player, others seemed to suggest some other applications. I see with a windows system I could use extenders to access the main system from other TV's. Do they make any that are small? I do not really want to try to hang an xbox360 in every room. Is there a better way to run this with other software?

Any help or advice is greatly appreciated.

Thank you!

Chris
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post #2 of 6 Old 09-20-2013, 10:07 AM
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You get tons of other great advice here, especially if you have a look at Assassin's guides, linked in this forum. But for a start, I'll share how I made a similar transition from the awful Charter DVRs, and saved about $40/month.

I bought a small, second hand PC on ebay ($50), added a nice big hard drive ($100), new RAM ($30), an IR dongle ($15) and a second hand InfiniTV 4 PCIe cable card tuner ($100). I use Windows Media Center on Windows 7. For the rest of the house, I have one Xbox (for games mainly) plus 4 Echo extenders which are currently $129 each at Newegg or less if you buy used. They're very small and completely silent and work fine as a basic extender. Xbox can do more of course, but it sounds like you only want TV without a big noisy box, so Echo is fine.

You can get very elaborate with your system and software depending on what functionality you want to add, but above is all you need to replace your cable DVR and other boxes.

My Charter bill went from $20 for DVR service plus $5 for each box down to a grand total of only $2 for the cable card rental.

Welcome to the club.
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post #3 of 6 Old 09-20-2013, 10:10 AM
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You need to lock in your goals a bit more before you can decide what hardware to buy. You need some type of hardware at each television, whether its a PC, a Windows Media Center Extender, or some other digital media player.

There are fundamentally two things you'd like to do - have a whole home DVR, and a whole home movie library. These are separate because while one solution could be great for movies and video file playback, it will not be able to work as a DVR with Charter. Likewise great DVR hardware will not be able to play all the video files in common usage.

You have Charter, so if you decide to stick with them you need to know that their DRM is a bit restrictive. You can still do a whole home DVR, but your options on exactly how to do that is a bit more limited. You're locked into Windows Media Center as opposed to XBMC, JRiver, or Media Portal.

What does this mean? To allow your recordings to play all around your house you need Xbox 360s. You COULD use a PC at each location, but that will only allow you to play back recordings made on that specific computer. If your living room recorded an episode of Mad Men, your bedroom PC will give you an error message. This is eliminated by using Windows Media Center extenders. The 360 is most common one. The only other one in production is the Ceton Echo. I own a discontinued Linksys DMA2100 and it works great as a DVR extender.

Now, all those devices - 360, Echo, etc - make lousy movie file players. They cannot be configured to play all the same kinds of video files your PC can. They can play a decent number of file types, but you have to be willing to convert your media to a format that is compatible across the entire system. They also can't access services like Hulu and Amazon Prime. The 360 has some access to these services BUT you have to pay for Xbox Live (the online gaming subscription) to use them.

If I had Charter and really wanted to do what you're looking at I would consider a system like this:

-an HTPC similar to the one in the article for your main tv. I'd use slightly different hardware, but it would be basically similar.
-Linksys DMA2100 extenders from ebay for each other tvs They work great as a DVR companion.
-another device that handles online streaming and has better video file support. An inexpensive Roku could do this with some additional software called Plex running on the PC.

My HTPC front end set up
Integration for whole home ATSC, CableCARD, FM radio, Blu-Ray, HD-DVD, DVD, VHS control & capture, video games, and archived & streaming media playback
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post #4 of 6 Old 09-20-2013, 10:47 AM
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I'm not sure about the OP's market, but in my market, everything on Charter besides premiums (HBO and the like) are either Copy Freely, or have no copy protection at all. So he has a lot of DVR software options.

The biggest drawback of the Linksys extenders and the reason I chose not to use them is lack of WOL (Wake On LAN), which means if my WMC PC is sleeping and I wan't to watch from another room, it won't wake up automatically. Using an Echo, it will wake up. There is a way to script WOL for Linksys using custom router firmware, but that kind of thing can be too much for a novice.

I agree with using another device for file streaming and streaming services, in addition to Roku, WDTV and BD players work well too, especially Sony. A good used streaming BD player can usually be found for under $70. Add to that a $10 universal remote, and you've got a seamless TV and streaming experience.
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post #5 of 6 Old 09-20-2013, 11:23 AM
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Now, if you were to consider dropping cable and using an antenna, or clearqam (the limited local basic channels via cable) you have a number of more options as well. I forgot to add that in my point.

Does Charter in your market use tuning adapters mdavej? I know the do some places, and every other provider using SDV seems to mark everything copy once.

My HTPC front end set up
Integration for whole home ATSC, CableCARD, FM radio, Blu-Ray, HD-DVD, DVD, VHS control & capture, video games, and archived & streaming media playback
Mironto's Panasonic plasma black level restoration guide
Restore the initial MLL on a 2009 Panasonic plasma
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post #6 of 6 Old 09-20-2013, 11:44 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pittsoccer33 View Post

Does Charter in your market use tuning adapters mdavej? I know they do some places, and every other provider using SDV seems to mark everything copy once.
Yes, they use Motorola tuning adapters in my market and still have little or no copy protection. I was curious about this myself, so I tested every channel not long ago to confirm. There is a new wrinkle however, in that a nationwide all-digital conversion is rolling out as we speak. My market will convert before the end of the year, reportedly. I don't know how this will change the copy protection or SDV situation. I've read that SDV markets that have gone all digital are still using SDV, but I haven't heard anything about changes in copy protection.

This has been very lucky for me because I've made a lot of hardware changes the past couple of years and never lost a recording due to DRM.
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